John Kasich speaks during a campaign stop, Feb. 13, in Mauldin, S.C. (AP/Paul Sancya)

MAULDIN, S.C. — The Republican presidential primary in South Carolina is becoming a nasty, brawling affair, just as it has been every four years here.

But you wouldn't know it listening to John Kasich. As he addressed a shivering overflow crowd of hundreds here Saturday that spilled into the parking lot of a barbecue joint called Mutt's, the Ohio governor said nothing about Donald Trump or any of his opponents.

Instead, Kasich talked about sunshine and healing and joy. He talked about people who cry alone, about those who have no advocates. He invited two boys on stage and, like a stern father, reminded them that nothing good comes from messing around with drugs.

"It is important for us to think about what is our future, what is our special purpose in life to help to bring about a healing and a lifting and a joy and a happiness inspite of the troubles we all see," Kasich said.

In New Hampshire, Kasich deliberately avoided the political fights of the day to carry a message of hope and optimism that lifted him to a strong second-place finish in Tuesday's primary. He is trying to wage the same campaign here, though that will be tested this week, starting in Saturday night's debate on CBS.

South Carolina is a different political environment, and Kasich, coming off his New Hampshire success, is now a different candidate. He is more of a threat to others in the field and is the subject of sharp attacks from former Florida governor Jeb Bush and his allied super PAC over Kasich's past support for defense spending cuts.

Kasich warned his crowd in Mauldin, "There's not a lot of room for negative campaigning. I want to run a positive campaign for the highest office in America."

He continued, "They're going to spend a lot of time and a lot of money trying to trash me. I feel the people that like me are resilient. Remember, in these last campaign weeks, believe none of what you read or hear and only half of what you see."

At the Mauldin rally, Kasich won the enthusiastic endorsement of Tajh Boyd, a former Clemson University quarterback and a celebrated sports star in this part of South Carolina.

Kasich said little about his policy platform, instead talking about leadership that softens the edges of Washington and lifts people out of the shadows.

"I'm not gonna lose touch with you — because I can't," Kasich said. "You will have a president who can wake up every day remembering the faces right here.”

He also infused some talk of faith into his remarks, a nod to the deeply-religious Republican electorate here, noting that he grew up the son of a mailman in a blue-collar, God-fearing household.

"Do you know how many people that we know in our lives that we run past at 1,000 miles an hour, we don’t stop and look them in the eye and ask them how they’re doing?" Kasich said. "It’s like a drive-by. There are a lot of people out there who have a few victories, and no one ever celebrates with them. And there are people out there that have defeats and tears, and no one ever cries with them. We have to pull our families and our communities and neighborhoods together."